Sodexo addresses food safety concerns


Photo courtesy of Charger Bulletin/Mia Adduci

The MyZone allergy free cabinets in the Bartels dining hall. West Haven, Sept. 15, 2022

Sodexo, the university’s dining vendor, has recently addressed concerns about cross-contamination within the realm of students’ dietary restrictions.

Juan Dominguez, the general manager for Sodexo at the University of New Haven, and Samantha Zajac, registered dietitian within dining services, spoke to clarify procedural precautions in light of student concerns.

Dominguez said that the company has allocated people who handle foods with certain restrictions, such as vegan meals and gluten-free items as well as indicating that labeling systems are in place to designate different categories of products.

“We have specific equipment, and we color-code [food] to ensure that from one day to another things do not go in the wrong direction,” Dominguez said about allergen-friendly preparation.

Zajac spoke further on Simple Servings, the university’s hot station for allergen-conscious food. “Everything is purple, and we have the sneeze-guards down so that students don’t come up and self-serve to prevent against cross-contamination. We have plates behind the line that the attendant will take, and put the item(s) that the student requests on,” she said.

Countertops like the ones in MyZone and other allergy-friendly sections are cleaned when the service is open for Simple Servings, which is notably not open all day. Cleaning occurs at the start and end of the day, between usages where cross-contamination could possibly occur and at 2:30-4:30 p.m., when the hot station is closed.

According to Zajec, all items in these cabinets are labeled and that their current protocols, which outlined discard dates, allergen labeling and more packaging and cleaning protocol are both more sanitary and conscious of cross-contamination, reducing risks.

In terms of utensils, the pair said that any concerns with cross-contamination had not yet been considered until the item was placed on their radar. “Nobody has brought that up at this time,” Zajac said. “But in the interim, if that was a concern, I would suggest we use the plastic [utensils].”

“We can set up silverware or plasticware, if they want to totally make sure that it’s totally protected from contamination,” Dominguez said.

Dominguez also mentioned a new addition being made to Bartels. Starting this week, a separate salad bar will be added for students with dietary restrictions and allergy concerns.

Zajac continued to discuss the required allergy training that Sodexo as a company holds as standard for their employees. Interactive allergy training occurs with all staff twice a year, and records are kept of completion.

Fifteen staff members also hold Allertrain U certifications, which indicate five years of training in food allergies including celiac. This is in addition to food allergy topics being discussed weekly, as described by Zajac.

“It’s important that we have those checks-and-balances in place,” Zajac said.

Repeatedly, Zajac and Dominguez said that they want students to reach out with questions and concerns, as they find communication to be an essential component in ensuring the comfort and safety of students at the university.

“Knowing the students’ feedback is sometimes where we struggle,” Zajac said, “if we don’t know, we can’t assist and make sure that their needs are actually met.”

Zajac works with many of the students who have allergies and restrictions on campus, and encourages others to reach out for guidance on any dietary-based concerns. The pair is very open to suggestions, commentary and concerns, and reinforced awareness about the wide range of different restrictions present throughout the student body.

Meetings can be scheduled with Samantha Zajac through her bookings page.

They both want students to address any incidents they may have with cross-contamination issues in the dining halls, as right now they find that very few get brought to their attention.

Dominguez said that every day, Sodexo is conscious of dietary restrictions, and they value awareness in their services.